01. The Mitzva of the Four Species (Arba’at Ha-minim)

On Sukkot there is a mitzva to take the four species: etrog (citron), lulav (palm branch), hadas (myrtle), and arava (willow). As we read: “On the first day you shall take the fruit of a hadar tree, branches of palm trees, boughs of dense-leaved trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days” (Vayikra 23:40). The Gemara elaborates: “The fruit of a hadar tree” refers to an etrog; “branches of palm trees” to a lulav; “boughs of dense-leaved trees” to hadasim; and “willows of the brook” to aravot (Sukka 35a; see Me’iri and Ritva ad loc. and Rambam’s introduction to Peirush Ha-mishnayot).

Since the lulav is the tallest of them all, the mitzva is referred to as “taking the lulav,” and the berakha recited is “Who has made us holy through His commandments and has commanded us about taking the lulav” (“al netilat lulav”).

On a Torah level, the mitzva only applies on the first day, as we read, “On the first day you shall take.” Only in the Temple precincts are we commanded to take the lulav each day, as we see from the continuation of the verse, “and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days.” In practice, since there is a mitzva to go up to the Temple on the three pilgrimage festivals, in Temple times many Jews performed the mitzva of lulav for seven days.

After the destruction of the Temple, R. Yoḥanan ben Zakkai ordained that the lulav should be taken for seven days everywhere, to commemorate the Temple. Such commemorative practices are very important, as our Sages tell us that by remembering the Temple and continuing to observe the mitzvot that were observed there, we help to restore what was lost with the destruction and exile and hasten the redemption (Sukka 41a).

We take one etrog, one lulav, three hadasim, and two aravot. In pressing circumstances, one takes just one hadas and one arava but does not recite the berakha (SA 651:1).[1]

If any one of the four species is very small, it is invalid. The minimum sizes are: an etrog must be at least an egg’s volume; the spine of the lulav must be at least 4 tefaḥim long; hadasim and aravot must be at least 3 tefaḥim long. There is no maximum size. As long as one can carry them, they are kosher. We will expand on these laws below (sections 7-9, 12; nn. 4, 6).


[1]. R. Tarfon maintains that one must take three hadasim and two aravot. Rav Yehuda, quoting Shmuel, declares that this is the halakha (Sukka 34b). This is the opinion of most of poskim, including Behag, Rambam, and Rosh, and it is the ruling of SA 651:1. Others say that the halakha follows R. Akiva, who maintains that one hadas and one arava are taken. Ramban and Ritva are of this opinion. Rema states that under pressing circumstances, one may rely on this view. Although some say that one even recites the berakha in this case (see MB ad loc. 6), many maintain that one should not recite the berakha, and we refrain from reciting berakhot in cases of uncertainty.

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Translated By:
Series Editor: Rabbi Elli Fischer

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Editor: Nechama Unterman